by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Designs of the hills and valleys of the coulee region adorn the walls of the lobby and performance area. A pit for musicians rests near the stage, eagerly awaiting the day instrumentalists will be able to use it as they help bring musicals to life. The Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau (G-E-T) School District’s new performing arts center stands ready to host everything from professional guest speakers to assemblies and become an entertainment source for the surrounding community.
The center will serve members of the district and community members at large. Staff members aim to use the center for band and choir concerts and the induction ceremonies of student groups such as National Honor Society. They also aim to host assemblies for the entire student body and work days for staff members — as well as professional guest speakers and guest performers for students, in addition to community members— at the center. The lobby could be rented out for events, as well.
“We’re hoping it can used as much as possible for not only students, but the entire community, as a hub for entertainment,” G-E-T Choral Director Ryan Stuempges said.
The goal of the center being a space for both those in the district and the greater community to enjoy existed since the beginning of the work to plan and construct the building.
“We went into this saying, ‘We want this to be a focal point of the community and one of the assets of our community,’” G-E-T Business Manager Matt Wenthe noted.
The first priority was ensuring the space was aesthetically and acoustically pleasing, Stuempges said. Those involved with the center’s planning and design wanted the lobby to have a great visual impact as people enter the building. Large glass windows wrap around the space, making the center inviting, Stuempges shared.
The center features top-notch sound and lighting systems, which Wenthe and Stuempges both said are highlights of the space.
The modified pit area is another part of the center about which Stuempges said he is excited. Many instrumentalists can fit in the pit as they play during performances like musicals, he added.
An acoustic shell was also prioritized to enhance center attendees’ auditory experience at choir and band concerts, as well as other performances.
Community members will not only be part of the center’s future. They are also a piece of its past. Stuempges said it is special that community members supported the construction of the center through approving a referendum, which funded the space.
“We have folks out there that want to see not only athletics thrive, but also opportunities for the arts to thrive ... and I feel that’s super meaningful in a sense of our [music] program, because to get that type of support means we’re able to give those amazing experiences that we know we can give to students,” Stuempges said.
“I think that it reflects our community’s value and emphasis placed on education,” Wenthe said. “I think it reflects that our community supports the arts. I think it reflects the fact that or community recognizes we have outstanding music programs.”
Amid the pandemic, the center was used to help spread students out before the district’s recent shift to distance learning.
“It’s bittersweet, because we’ve got this beautiful facility that’s a long time coming, and now we don’t get to do anything with it,” Wenthe said, noting that holiday concerts would typically be held this time of year.
The center was constructed after the district first prioritized and addressed academic programming needs, such as expanding science classrooms, then had an athletic facility constructed.
Hosting performances will be easier than it was in the district’s previous performance space, a gym built in 1953. The center’s stage is larger, and sports teams will not need to use the space, Wenthe said. The center also has more seating for audiences. As the center can seat about 774 people, all those who attend large combined middle and high school band or choir concerts will be able to do so comfortably, Stuempges said. Students will also be able to enjoy the experience of performing for hundreds of people, he shared.
The funding for the center was approved by community members through a referendum in 2018. The amount of funding approved by referendum was $9.8 million. Ground was broken for the center in November 2019.
Before the approval of the referendum, music program boosters attended School Board meetings to voice their support for the new center and encouraged community members to vote on the referendum. Music program staff members were involved with these efforts, as well.
After the referendum was passed, Wenthe and Stuempges were part of a group which toured performing arts centers throughout Wisconsin to get a sense of what was working well at the centers and what was not. They took what they learned during their tours into consideration as they thought about which features to prioritize in their new center.
Updates on the center’s opening date will be available on the district’s website, getschools.org, and Facebook page.